A new report published today reveals that by cutting legal aid the government will incur further costs of at least £139m, undermining the Ministry of Justice’s proposed contributions to the government’s deficit reduction plan.
According to the King’s College London report, Unintended Consequences: the cost of the Government’s Legal Aid Reforms, the government’s proposed £350 million legal aid cuts will in fact incur new ‘knock-on’ costs of at least £139m for the taxpayer by shifting the burden on to other government departments, such as the NHS.
The report comes just as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will return to the House of Lords to be debated. The report supports the Sound Off for Justice campaign – the Law Society’s campaign to stop the government cuts to legal aid which the Refugee Council supports.
Under the current proposals, while most asylum matters remain eligible for legal aid, all immigration cases will be removed from scope. This means, for example, that refugees applying for family reunion will be unable to seek free legal help, and some separated children and victims of trafficking will also be unable to access legal advice.
Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“This welcome report suggests that not only will slashing legal aid force some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including people who have fled conflict and persecution, to go without legal support, but will also be of little benefit to the economy or the taxpayer. It is unacceptable that vulnerable people are having their right to justice taken away, but particularly when the government’s reasons for doing so are in doubt.
“It is already very difficult for asylum seekers and refugees, including children, to find legal help and if the bill goes ahead, they will no longer be eligible for legal advice on important matters such as family reunion, wrongly having financial support withdrawn, and for many victims of trafficking. We strongly urge the government to consider the Law Society’s alternative proposals to these cuts, to ensure those that need access to justice the most will still be able to get it.”